One day, I went 90 miles per hour in my car and crashed into a fence. The shift in momentum was so intense that my body flew through the car's front windshield. Eventually, my body smashed onto the pavement. Yet, that day I suffered no wounds. While this might sound like a miracle, or perhaps a plot element out of an M. Night Shyamalan film
, I was simply playing Bugbear Entertainment's arcade racer, FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage. The PC version is a port of the Xbox 360 game which released in 2007. Has it made any improvements to become the ultimate racer or is it just flat out boring? The answer lies somewhere in between.
In many ways FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is a lot like the Burnout racing games. It doesn't feature any traffic, but destruction is rewarded with either speed boosts or points. Although the game doesn't offer the same speed as Burnout 3 or F-Zero GX, it still holds its own. However, what good is speed if your car handles poorly? Thankfully, the cars handle pretty responsively in FlatOut, but you'll need a gamepad to properly take advantage of the controls. Even though the default keyboard controls are functional, the game was clearly designed for the Xbox 360 controller. Even the menus are mapped with Xbox 360 buttons.
Once you get your preferred control setup taken care of, you'll notice that cars maneuver pretty well. If, however, you do find yourself crashing a lot, you won't have to call it quits because the physics engine is pretty forgiving. Hit a pole? You'll be okay. One area that could use some improvement is the track layout, which feels a little simplistic and shallow. The race tracks feel consistently narrow and the alternating routes are usually two-second unrewarding detours. However, my biggest gripe with the racing is the satisfaction of power sliding, or the lack thereof. Attempting to power slide won't yield rewarding benefits and will often lead to fishtails.
The most effective way to race is by wreaking havoc. Ramming into opponents will give you speed boosts, which you'll need because your opponents are pretty aggressive. As a matter of fact, this game offers a good challenge overall. The Beat the Bomb mode requires you to reach checkpoints before your car explodes. This is an interesting take on an old school racing concept, and it's friggin' hard! Not only is it tough to get good times in races, but it's hard to achieve the game's set goals in its non-racing missions as well.
Like the Burnout series, FlatOut offers missions that reward destruction and stunts with points. In the Carnage Races, you will be tossed into a checkpoint-style race, and your objective is to wreak as much havoc as possible to score points. A non-racing destructive mode is Deathmatch Derby, which pits you against a dozen or so drivers in a dangerous arena to either rank up points or be the last man standing. But Deathmatch Derby isn't the only non-racing alternative. A big portion of the game is the stunt jumps. Like famous stuntman, Evel Knievel, who used his motorcycle to jump over heaps of buses, you too will be traversing over obscene distances through the air.
Except that in FlatOut you, literally you and not your car, will do the flying. In the stunt mode, you'll drive your car a short distance and preload your jump with a launch button. The earlier you hold the button, the higher you'll fly. However, hold it down too long and your driver may shoot up instead of forward. As your driver goes airborne, you can slightly alter your landing trajectory with the directional pad. If you come up slightly short, the game allows you to do a last resort body flop, which can be a lifesaver at times. You're going to be doing this a lot as there are twelve different stunt tracks, each offering its unique, silly twist to the mode.
Rather than simply jumping over buses, the stunts in FlatOut will have you doing zany things. One stunt will require you to launch your driver through an arch of fiery rings. Later, you'll become the bowling ball in an oversized bowling alley setup filled with gigantic pins. Then there's the track that has several gigantic basketball hoops, where you're the basketball. If you're feeling lucky, there's a "royal flush" card game that launches you into a humungous wall of cards. Each card represents a point value, and your job is to rank up the most points. While there's a ton of other modes: soccer, football, darts, etc... It all essentially boils down to your ability to properly preload a jump. The stunts are arguably the best thing about the game, and it's enhanced when you play with friends.
Luckily, FlatOut offers both online and offline multiplayer. Unfortunately, your offline multiplayer experience consists of passing a single controller around the room. What adds to the disappointment is the fact that you can only play the stunt modes together. There's no split screen racing in this game. The online multiplayer isn't perfect either and requires gamers to have either a Games for Windows Live account. Once you get online, you'll get the chance to participate in all of the game's various modes: races, Deathmatch Derby, or stunts. My online experience was definitely playable, but the frame rate seemed too hitch a little more.
However, even offline, the frame rate was very inconsistent. A major issue that I ran into with my Steam copy of the game is that FlatOut does not run well on mid-to-lower-end machines. I tried the game on a GeForce 7800 GTX and an ATI X1900, but both ran at mediocre frame rates on medium settings. The game would also hitch on the high settings for my GeForce 8800 GTS. Perhaps this can be fixed with a future patch, but it's a shame that, in its current state, my pretty decent gaming rig cannot run the game better than an Xbox 360.
If you do manage to get FlatOut running at a decent frame rate, you'll notice that it's not a bad looking game. There are some good environmental effects like dust, smoke, and fiery explosions. Things like wood pieces will break and your car will be able to run over them. Driving into these obstacles and other cars will take a visual toll on your vehicle. You'll eventually see dinks, bumps, and your hood might fly off. If you're able to run the game on high settings, you'll notice that the textures look pretty sharp. However, in addition to frame rate issues, the graphics engine also suffers from clipping. On more than one occasion, a barrel or pipe got stuck in my car.
Also somewhat of a mixed bag is the audio. While the sound effects sound natural for a racer, the music is a generic mix of hard rock. Although it isn't terrible, the track list is pretty short, so you'll hear the same songs on a pretty frequent rotation.
©2008-09-12, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved